Critical eye turned on WA

Julianne Schultz.

Following bestselling editions focusing on Queensland, New Zealand and Tasmania, heavyweight Australian literary journal Griffith Review finally turns its compound critical eye on WA with Looking West.

A collaboration between Queensland’s Griffith University and WA’s Curtin University and co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Anna Haebich, Looking West is a multifaceted collection of essay, memoir, reportage, fiction, poetry and photo essay embracing everything from WA’s unique flora and fauna, mining, farming and the arts to our fear of sharks, Aboriginal footy players and homegrown crime fiction.

“I’ve got family in WA and I’ve spent a lot of time there,” says Schultz, a former journalist and Griffith Review’s founding and ongoing editor. “What working on Looking West gave me was a much more nuanced understanding of a place I thought I knew pretty well.”

Currently a professor at Griffith University’s centre for public culture and ideas and chairwoman of the Queensland Design Council, Schultz hopes this 47th edition of Griffith Review will uncover a number of layers unknown not just to Western Australians but all Australians.

“There is something quite special about WA,” she says. “I’m hopeful that by having this mix of the social and the historical, as the well as the political and the economic, it really does get to another layer.

Certainly the feedback I’ve had has been along the lines of ‘Gosh, I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t understand that’.”

As Schultz writes in her introduction Land, glorious land, “The portrait of WA and its people, challenges and opportunities that emerges from the contributors to Looking West will confound many preconceptions. These stories provide rich insights into the history, geology, environment, politics and creative impulses that inform the State.”

And as Anna Haebich amusingly writes in her contribution, From the edge of the edge:

“Forget stories of cashed-up bogans. Perth’s beautiful people — models, actors, sports stars, musicians, foodies — also emulate the tanned (US) West Coast style.”

There’s a terrific interview with Tim Winton by Madeleine Watts, as well as substantial pieces by Carmen Lawrence, Brooke Davis, Kim Scott, Ted Snell, John Kinsella, Helen Trinca, Shaun Tan, David Whish- Wilson and many other luminaries. And as usual, the more creative the writing, the closer it comes to fiction (and in some cases becomes fiction), the closer it gets to the truth of West Australians’ everyday, lived experience. That’s why I love Rebecca Giggs’ Open ground: “My stories about the Pilbara began ... not as stories about remoteness or heavy industry; they were personal stories about bodies, about family and about connection.”

And David Ritter’s The man without a face: “The river was my father’s delight. He would clamber among the rocks, burning off and clearing brambles when necessary and would often end up with his white vest, shorts and gumboots generously daubed with the rich, aromatic mud from the shallow pools beneath the paperbarks.”

And Amanda Curtin’s Nullius: “Sun stipples through the canopy above her hatless head. She trails a whip of wattle, picking her way over fallen boughs and threading through slimy reeds. Bare feet squelching. Scum ripples the surface of the creek in greens and greys. It’s not deep, she knows that, but still she wonders: how shallow is too shallow to drown?”

“Sometimes we forget to keep telling our stories because we’re comfortable with what we already know,” Schultz says. “Things are more complicated than that. You have to keep telling the stories. Because in the process you find new ones and new ways of understanding.”

Griffith Review 47 Looking West is published by Text ($28). WA Governor Kerry Sanderson will launch the book tomorrow night at the Perth Town Hall. Julianne Schultz will be a guest of the 2015 Perth Writers Festival.